“…And Ladies of the Club” opens in 1868 as Congressman General Deming tells Waynesboro Female College graduates, “The hand that rocks the cradle is mightier than the hand that wields the sabre.”
The novel focused primarily on two graduates, Anne Gordon and Sally Rausch, reveals the truth underlying that cliché.
Both graduates are invited to become founding members of a local women’s literary club.
Sally accepts because she thinks the club might become influential in Waynesboro.
Anne accepts because Sally did: She can back out later.
Sally marries a German immigrant, Ludwig Rausch, a man with a passion for machinery and endowed with a business shrewdness equal to any Yankee’s.
Anne marries her childhood sweetheart, a doctor scarred by his experiences as a military surgeon and his family history.
Helen Hooven Santmyer traces the interwoven lives of the two women, their families, their small town, and America up until 1932.
Politics, wars, economic booms and depressions, social and technological changes are revealed the way people felt them.
“…And Ladies of the Club” is a marvelous work of historical fiction with an historical sweep and psychological intimacy equaling Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, John Galsworthy’s Forsythe novels, and Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown.
Based in part on author Louis Bromfield’s own family history, The Farm is an unsatisfactory novel. Crowded with characters and brimming with anecdotes, many of which seem worthy of being turned into a novel, the book doesn’t succeed in melding them into more than the sum of its parts.
The story begins in 1815. Colonel MacDougal a Maryland aristocrat “sick of dishonesty and corruption and intolerance and all the meanness of civilization and of man himself ” arrives in Ohio to establish a farm and a new life.
As the Colonel arrives a Jesuit priest leaves, marking the end of the French missionary work among the Native Americans, and a Massachusetts peddler arrives, marking the start of the commercialization of rural America.
Bromfield uses the memories and experiences of one of the Colonel’s great grandsons, Johnny, to thread together the story of the rise of towns and decline of farms up to World War I. Unfortunately, Johnny never really comes alive as a person. He’s just a device.
Bromfield’s real hero is the farm itself, and even that is largely symbolic. Johnny’s grandfather explained its importance:
Some day…there will come a reckoning and the country will discover that farmers are more necessary than traveling salesmen, that no nation can exist or have any solidity which ignores the land. But it will cost the country dear. There’ll be hell to pay before they find it out.
The Farm is worth reading for social history and cultural perspective, but it’s not worth reading today as a novel.
By Louis Bromfield
Illus. Kate Lord
Introduction by Winfield H. Rogers
Harper & Brothers, 1946
1933 bestseller #9
My grade: C+